Faced with ideas like levels
of participation, different phases and roles you may be
tempted by some quick fixes for your participation problems.
These can bring their own difficulties. For
`What we need is a public
You will certainly need to
meet the public, but the conventional set-up with a fixed
agenda, platform and rows of chairs is a stage set for
conflict. Among the problems are:
- The audience will
contain many different interests, with different levels
of understanding and sympathy. It is difficult to know
how to pitch a presentation.
- It is very difficult to
keep to a fixed agenda - people may bring up any issue
they chose and you just look authoritarian if you try and
shut them up.
- Few people get a chance
to have a say.
- Identify and meet key
- Run workshop sessions
for different interest groups.
- Bring people together
after the workshop sessions in a report-back seminar. By
then everyone should have some ideas in
- If you must do a one-off
meeting, split people into small groups early on and run
a report back in the second half.
- Make clear in all
publicity that it is an ideas session with group
- Plan the layout of the
room(s) so you avoid `them and us', and can split easily
- In short, make a public
meeting the last thing you do, not the first.
See Access, Public
meetings, Workshops in
`A good leaflet, video and exhibition will
get the message across'
These may well be useful
tools, but it is easy to be beguiled by the products and
forget what you are trying to achieve.
Before you brief the production team first
- What level of
participation are you aiming for? If it is anything more
than information-giving, you are looking for feedback and
possibly other people's ideas and commitment. High-cost
presentations suggest you have made up your
- What response do you
want - and can you handle it?
- Could you achieve more
with lower-cost materials and more face-to-face
the A-Z and
do you stand?,
`Commission a survey'
A questionnaire study and/or
in-depth discussion groups can be an excellent ways to start
a participation process. On the other hand they can be a
magnificent way of avoiding the issue of what you want by
asking other people what they want. Fine, if you are then
able to deliver.
Bear in mind:
- Surveys require expert
design and piloting to be useful.
- They are only as good as
the brief you provide. Why do you want a
- It is unwise to jump
from an analysis of the results straight to proposed
solutions, particularly if you want the commitment of
other interests. The analysis will inevitably be an
abstraction, and the ideas will not be `owned' by anyone
unless people have a chance to think them
- In planning a survey:
first put yourself on the receiving end of the
questioning, and second design it as part of a process
which will lead through to some action.
`Appoint a liaison officer'
That may be a useful step,
but not if everyone else thinks it is the end of their
involvement in the process. Are you just trying to pass the
buck to someone else ?
Aim to empower your
liaison officer. Consider:
- Do they have the
necessary skills and resources for the job?
- Will they get the
backing of other colleagues?
- Are they being expected
to occupy conflicting roles - that is, wear too many
hats? It is difficult to present yourself as a neutral
facilitator if you are also making recommendations on
funding. The temptation to manipulate agendas is
`Work through the voluntary
Voluntary bodies are a major
route to communities of interest, and may have people and
resources to contribute to the participation process.
However, they are not `the community'.
- There will be many small
community groups who are not part of the more formalised
- Voluntary groups, like
any organisations, will have their own agendas - funding
targets to achieve, issues to pursue. They are not a
organisations as another sectoral interest in the community
- albeit a particularly important one:
- Check out organisations
with a number of different sources. Having said all that,
voluntary organisations will have a wealth of experience
and are essential allies. They've been through many of
the problems of involving people before.
Stakeholders, Voluntary sector in
`Set up a consultative
Some focus for
decision-making will be necessary in anything beyond simple
consultation processes. However:
- Even if a committee is
elected or drawn from key interest groups it will not be
a channel for reaching most people.
- People invited to join a
committee may feel uncomfortable about being seen as
- The committee can just
reinforce `them and us' attitudes if some members have
more power than others.
- A group which helps you
plan the participation process.
- Surveys, workshops and
informal meetings to identify other people who might
become actively involved.
- A range of groups
working on specific issues.
- Defining any central
group in terms of the longer term aim. For example, if a
Management Board or Trust is a possibility, you are
looking for a `shadow' Board.
See Committees, Workshops
`There's no time to do proper
That may be the case if the
timetable is imposed externally - or do you feel that
consultation will raise questions you can't answer? Beware:
the questions won't go away, and you could be forced into a
climb-down later on in the face of protest.
If the timetable is genuinely tight:
- Explain the pressure
that you are under.
- At least produce a
leaflet or send out a letter.
- Run a crash programme
for those interested - perhaps over a
`Run a Planning for Real
techniques can be very powerful ways of getting people
involved. However there are horses for courses - no one
technique is applicable to all situations. Are you just
falling into the technology trap - believing that a gadget
will fix the problem? This guide aims to suggest what is
See Planning for Real in
`It's technical - requiring a professional
If you believe that, why
consult anyone? Before following this arrogant course,
reflect on the many examples of disaster and political
miscalculation where the experts knew best.
Before leaving it to the experts consider:
- Are you sure you know
what the problem is - would everyone else
- Is there really only one
way of fixing things?
- Do you need the support
of other interests to carry the proposals through? If you
don't give them an early say in the solution they could
become part of the problem.
clarification, Decision-making in
`Bring in consultants expert in
There's some truth in the
saying that `consultants are people who steal your watch in
order to tell you the time'. Often you have the answer
yourself, and you are just trying to avoid grappling with
the issue. Of course there are situations when you need
outside expertise - whether technical, or in clearing your
own mind or facilitating the participation process.
If you do use consultants:
- Get a recommendation
from a previous client if possible.
- Give a clear brief on
what you are trying to achieve, the level of control and
boundaries for action. At the same time be prepared to
discuss and, if necessary, renegotiate the
- Encourage them to ask
hard questions and provide an independent
- Play an active role in
their work to provide continuing guidance and learn from
the experience. Don't use the consultants as
- Make sure you and your
organisation can deliver in response to the ideas they
produce, and you can handle things when they
- Include work within your
organisation to parallel that with community interests.
Many problem in participation processes arise within the
- Agree a realistic budget
- then challenge the consultants to perform.
- Remember that most
consultancy exercises are only as good as the
The next section provides a
for thinking about